Fifty-five year old Ella White, the wealthy widow of a Manhattan businessman, was short and stout with an outspoken, often brash personality. Her companion, Marie Grice Young, 36, tall, slim and soft-spoken, was a music teacher from Washington. The pair shared Ella’s family home, Briarcliff Manor and Farm in New York, spent summers at their cottage in New Hampshire, and often traveled abroad together, collecting art and Russian and Asian antiques.
Concluding a vacation in England and France, where they had purchased poultry for their farm, the ladies joined Titanic at Cherbourg, accompanied by Ella’s maid and manservant. Ella twisted her ankle while boarding and was placed under the care of the ship’s doctor, who confined her to her cabin. On the night of April 14, her trusty walking stick enabled her to get on deck, although she couldn’t climb the stairs and had to take the elevator. There she boarded a lifeboat (No. 8, the first to be launched from the port side of the ship), accompanied by her maid and Marie; Ella’s manservant was lost in the disaster.
Ella felt helpless in the lifeboat, being unable to row with the others. Her contribution was to try and signal the ship whose lights could be seen nearby, using her cane, which had an electric light in the tip.
Ella later testified at the American Inquiry into the Titanic’s sinking, sparing no criticism for the crew in her lifeboat, whom she said were inept and rude.
After the tragedy, Ella and Marie resumed their life together at Briarcliff and continued traveling and collecting.
On Ella’s death the bulk of her estate was left to Marie for life.